I’ve been posting about mindfulness in schools recently, but it occurred to me that the word “mindfulness” carries with it much confusion and misconception. I admit, when I first came across it in DBT therapy, I was very skeptical myself, thinking that it was only associated with Buddhism and that it couldn’t possibly be the panacea for stress that everyone was claiming it to be. How could meditation solve all of my problems? That question is exactly what mindfulness is all about. Here are some of the myths and facts about this practice:
Myth: Mindfulness meditation is a Buddhist practice.
Fact: While it is a fact that its roots are embedded in Buddhist teachings, mindfulness has evolved into various non-sectarian branches.
Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced this practice in 1979 to Western society through the development of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – a secular, group-based treatment program that offers instruction on skills that can be used to effectively cope with stress in everyday life.
Since then, many studies have been conducted that have brought this practice into the spotlight within the scientific community. Its effects can be incredibly powerful, ranging from psychological benefits like stress reduction and improved focus to improved health and wellbeing, especially in increasing immune functioning.
These findings have led to a burst in popularity of this practice in the general population. In fact, many schools have invested in providing mindfulness instruction to its students; the Vancouver School Board (VSB) implemented mindfulness into their elementary school curriculum through their MindUp program.
Anyone – from any religion – can practice mindfulness.
Myth: Mindfulness is all about sitting still and focusing on the breath, but I just don’t have the time or patience to do it.
Fact: Sitting meditation is only one way of practicing mindfulness. The truth is you can practice it anywhere at any time, as long as you’re “paying attention attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Mindfulness of ordinary activities is one active method. Instead of mindlessly washing your dishes, redirect your attention to the sensations of heat from the flowing water, the feel of the smooth dishes in your hands, and the contraction and relaxation of your arm and back muscles that allow you to get it done. Instead of going for a walk and getting caught up in your racing thoughts (like daydreaming about that chocolate pecan square from PureBread that’s sitting ever so lonely in your fridge), focus on the sights and smells of your environment – the cars passing by, the caws of crows flying overhead, the crisp, cold air tinted with the scent of freshly cut grass going in and out of your lungs. You can even be mindful of your emotions and thoughts – especially useful when you’re watching the US presidential debates – noticing how they come and go like waves. There’s really an infinite number of ways you can do it!
Myth: I’m feeling stressed out because I’m overwhelmed by what’s happening in my life. How can mindfulness help me if it doesn’t solve all of my problems?!
Fact: This is where I find mindfulness to be most effective in my life.
Often times I feel stressed when I think about all of the times that I encountered failure, which then leads to anxiety about how I’m going to handle an upcoming situation. I get stuck ruminating about the past, and end up catastrophizing the future. There is one fact that no one can escape – everything is uncertain, and some things will always be outside of your control. Rather than relying on your overactive imagination to judge a situation, focus your attention on the reality of this present moment and allow your thoughts and emotions to naturally come and go.
But there are situations where the present moment is your source of current distress. Maybe you’re blanking out on a question on an exam, or you have to give a speech in front of many people and you’re terrified of public speaking. Mindfulness is even more effective in these scenarios. I find that I am more often overwhelmed by the emotions and thoughts that come with the situation, and not the situation itself. So I try to completely accept what I am experiencing instead of fighting against it. I find that the more you resist what you are internally experiencing, the stronger your suffering will be. It is when you willingly stop battling your emotion/thought will the struggle end – the competition would simply cease to exist! Mindfulness is a great way to find peace in your present life.
Mindfulness doesn’t solve your problems or change the present moment, but helps you learn to deal with them.
Although the popularity of mindful practices are growing, a lot more needs to be done to dispel some of the present myths that are still prevalent in our society. What are some of the things that you’ve heard about mindfulness?